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Chains, Bands, Speed, and Cardio Work for Strength Athletes

By Gary F. Zeolla


Still going through some old emails. Below are four that deal with the use of chains and bands and speed and cardio work for powerlifters and other strength athletes. The emailers' comments are in black and enclosed in greater than and lesser than signs; my comments are in red.

>Subject: powerlifting raw

I do powerlifting raw [without supportive gear] and without chains or bands or boards, and I want to try your raw routine that you did. How would I adjust the high end that includes the bands and chains?


If you are asking what exercises to do for top end work if you don't have chains and bands, then you could try the following:

Squats: partial squats. Due to the greater weight, I would recommend not walking the weight out. Set the safety bars in a power rack at about the halfway point. Squat the weight up off from them and back down.

Benches: again, partial benches in a power rack, along with close grip benches.

Deadlifts: Rack pulls in the power rack. Set the safety bar at about knee level and pull off of them.

I hope that helps.

>Subject: RE: powerlifting raw

Actually the gym I am at does not even have a power rack. I live in a pow-dunk town. So I do have a Smith Machine, but not much else for powerlifting. I can do most of the exercises for the three lifts, and I really like the way you did the raw lifting workout. Like yesterday I did the barbell incline and DB decline, with the rest of the workout. Then I did squat for phase one and then did Olympic squat high on the back. But without chains or bands and no power rack, I need the help for the raw lifts. Thank you again for any help you could give me to help me.


I was afraid you'd say you didn't have access to a power rack. That makes things really difficult, but not impossible. But I do hope you are using spotters on squats and benches.

Forget the Smith machine; it is useless. I would suggest you pick up some bands. They are very inexpensive and light enough that you can carry them in your gym bag. They can be set up using DBs to hold them down. For pics of the set-up, click here. They are available from APT Inc.

You will probably need a pair of mini-bands (#2) for benches and a pair of light (#3) or average (#4) bands for squats. You might also want to pick up a Manta Ray for doing high bar squats.

Otherwise, see my Assistance Exercise pages for additional exercise ideas.

Hope that helps.

>Subject: RE: powerlifting raw

Cool thanks for the help.

God bless

>Subject: Training for the lighter lifter.....Awesome website Gary!!


I frequent your website all the time for training info. Great informative site by the way!!!<


>I, too, am a Master's lifter.....I compete at a bodyweight of 165. A little heavier than you, but at 44 years old I too have recovery problems. I'm strong on the deadlift (sumo), hold my own on the squat and am terrible at benching. Long arms make the point where the bar hits 4 inches off the chest to lockout very tough.

I noticed your routine and the routine I follow are very similar....which leads me to my questions....I have only two....

On the deadlift, I was a conventional puller but with long legs I found sumo style better for pulling and when the initial pull off the floor was difficult, I stood on plates. I did a few sets of 5's with lighter weights AFTER my deadlift sets for the day. Also, I deadlift once in 9-10 days if possible. That may help your deadlift....have you tried spacing the deadlift out a little further....?<

In my current routine, I am doing DL work every 9-10 days. But I am alternating doing DLs with full gear (belt, suit, wraps) followed by DLs off of blocks one week with chain DLs and stiff-leg DLs the next week. So I am only doing regular DLs every 18-20 days. And this alternating pattern is working well.

Note this was when I was training for APF PA States, September 2, 2006. For the routine, click here. For my workout logs from this time, click here. I am now following this routine once again as I prepare for IPA PA States September 22, 2007. For my current workout logs, click here.

>And, now my bench I've gotten older my bench has dropped about 40 pounds. Was 264 with a only 215 without a shirt.....Granted some shoulder injuries didn't help it, but now that my shoulders are rehabbed, I'm starting to gain again on the bench albeit slowly. Did you find using the dumb bells and close grip bench presses helpful in getting the bar off the chest...? Lockouts aren't a problem for me.<

Dumbbells are great if you pause them at the chest. A good way is to alternate arms, holding one DB at the chest while you press the other up and then back down. That way, the resting arm is paused on the chest for an extended time. For a video of this exercise, click here. Note that in this video, I am using "Power Hooks" to unrack and rack the DBs. This is the best way to get the DBs in place. They are available from  Amazon .

Pause benches with a barbell will also help. Use a 3 count for the pause.

Close grip benches mainly work the triceps, so they are better for lockout strength than the push off of the chest.

>I bench both raw and with a shirt....I compete in Law Enforcement/Fire push/pull meets once a year and no equipment is allowed except for a belt and single ply suit. The rest of the time is spent training for fully equipped you find your training has to be that much different between equipped and non-equipped? <

For training with full gear I use chains and bands a lot more than I would if I was competing raw. The chains and bands mimic the effect the gear gives, easier at the bottom but harder as you go up. For raw lifting I would do more bottom end work, like putting even more prominence to platform DLs and pause benches. So for instance, I would probably do the PDLs on the opposite week from regular DLs and first. And if I did chain DLs, do them after the PDLs.

>Thanks a bunch....

Train hard.....


I hope that helps.

>Subject: RE: Training for the lighter lifter.....Awesome website Gary!!


Thanks a bunch!! I'll have to try those alternating DB bench presses....
I look forward to reading about your progress........


>Subject: Chains


First of all I just want to say thanks for your information on your site!

My question is on the chain set up for squats, what do you mean by leader chain.<

The leader chain is a smaller chain that connects to the bar and then to the heavier chain below. Since the top part of the chain does not de-load, then there is no reason to waste money on a heaver chain for the top foot or so of the set-up. See the pics on the following page of my site for the set-up: Chains Pictures.

>Do you know if an American company ships chains to the UK?


Even if you could find someone who would, the shipping costs would be prohibitive. You'd probably pay as much for shipping as for the chains.

You would be better of trying to find the chains locally. You should at least be able to buy the smaller leader chain at a hardware store, and maybe they can special order a heavier chain. Otherwise, check out an ocean dock, or anywhere there are boats. They are usually anchored with heavy chains. Someone there might be able to tell you where to get heavy chains.

Then I would suggest getting collars for the chains from APT Inc.

I just ordered these for myself. You'll see in the pics I am just looping the leader chains over the bar. But I have to be careful to pull my fingers out of the way, or they get caught under the chains. But these collars would make things much easier. And you'll also not need as long of a leader chain as it would not need to be doubled over the bar. You'll just need something to connect the leader chain to the heavy chain. A hardware store should have some kind of clasps that will work. The heavy "triangle" you see in my pics really is not necessary.

IOW, put the collars on the bar. Connect the leader chain to collars with the screw in the collars. Then connect the other end of the leader chain to the heavy chain with some kind of clasp. The chains' lengths should be such that at the bottom of the lift, the heavy chain is completely de-loaded, but then at the top of the lift, the heavy chain is completely off of the floor. For a video of chains "deloading" on the bench set-up, click here.

For a video of chain benches, click here.

I hope that helps!

Note: For those inside the USA, APT does sell the full chain set-up: Click here for 3/4" chains. They also sell other sizes, but this is the size I use.

>Subject: Powerlifting + cardiovascular?


I am a high school football and track coach in Lake Park, Minnesota. I have a junior out for track (to throw shot put) this year that also plays football for me in the fall.  He has aspiration of being a powerlifter and trains pretty hard in the weight room. He is getting big and SLOW! I am pushing descent cardiovascular and plyometric workouts on him but he insists that running will reduce his overall strength in his routine based on articles HE has read. I told him I would do some research and try to get expert information for him. How much cardiovascular training do you do or recommend? Any help would be much appreciated. 


Personally, I lift three times a week (M.W, F), then I go for a brisk (~3.5 mph) walk for 30 minutes on Tu, Th, Sat. Also, at times I will do some intense cardio after my lifting workouts (i.e., step ups on a foot high box, hitting a heavy bag, or jumping rope). These will be done at a high intensity but only for a few minutes. I also always include speed work in my routine. See my article Speed Work for details in this regard.

As for your athlete, since he is engaging in football, he most definitely needs cardio work, and something more intense than my walking. But powerlifters will often call it GPP (general physical preparedness).

Also he needs speed for football, and that is where the speed work would come in. As for powerlifting, most powerlifters include some kind of speed work in their training.

So you are on the right track in recommending he do some cardio and plyometrics. Just call them GPP and speed work, respectively, and tell him that most top-ranked powerlifters do GPP and speed work.

As for amounts, what I recommend in the chapter on exercise in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book and what I follow is for the lifting workouts to last 60-90 minutes, three times a week, and to be done at a high intensity, and for the cardio to last 30-60 minutes and to done at a moderately intense level.

I hope that helps.

The above emails originally appeared in the free FitTips for One and All email newsletter.
They were posted on this site July 19, 2007.

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